Wednesday, August 21, 2013

SHORT TERM 12: Brie Larson breaks out, as does fine new filmmaker Destin Cretton

The conversation that opens SHORT TERM 12 -- a new and bracing slice-of-(foster-care)-life from the gifted young filmmaker Destin Cretton -- is wonderfully indicative of what's to come. In it, a few young people stand around chatting about some things we don't fully understand but that seem pretty funny and odd, even enjoyable on some level. Then something very weird happens, after which we quickly catch on to what's happening here.

We're at (and soon inside) a foster-care facility in some large city (L.A. maybe?) where the young people are allowed to stay for only a limited time. Once we see these kids and the truly caring staff who oversees them, we can easily understand why they don't want to leave and, as that time draws near, they start acting out, frightened and unsure of what is to come. Filmmaker Destin Cretton, shown at left, who earlier gave us a short version of the film, as well as last year's I Am Not a Hipster, tosses us in media res and lets us catch on as we will. He threads his narrative with the necessary exposition so cunningly that we're eating it up even as we're breathlessly keeping up with what's going on.

The characters and their situation do double duty as the plot. Workers at the foster-care home -- Grace, played by Brie Larson, above (currently seen to good effect in The Spectacular Now), in what has to be her breakout role (actresses would kill for a part this juicy!), and Mason (an excellent John Gallagher Jr., below, of Margaret and Whatever Works) -- are also lovers who have what appears to be a truly meaningful relationship, even if Grace can't seem to "share" important things very well.

So far as the young people go, all of those at the short-term home look like kids you'd want to help and would grow to care about. Two of them and their stories stand out. Marcus (played by a real find named Keith Stanfield, below, right, with Ms Larson) is the kid about to leave -- and quite frightened at this prospect,

while Jayden (Kaitlin Dever, below) is a troubled youngster with a powerful father whose situation and response to it brings everything, including the relationship of Grace and Mason, to a head. In telling his story, Mr. Cretton places behavior front and center and lets everything flow from that. With a cast this talented, coupled to a screenplay and dialog -- semi-improvised or not, I don't know -- that seem spot-on, the story practically tells itself and only very rarely do its seams show.

The movie demonstrates, in a manner similar to the under-seen It's Kind of a Funny Story, how fair and loving care of patients can work toward growth and the assumption of responsibility in their movement toward autonomy.

This is no small achievement on its own terms. Couple it to acting, writing and direction of a high order -- there's even a bit of brilliant rap poetry along the way -- and you have one of the year's finest films. As happens in only the best of movies, this one often seems like life itself unfurling.

Short Term 12, via Cinedigm and running 96 minutes, opens this Friday in New York City (at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) and in Los Angeles at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark. In the weeks to come the film will have a limited rollout across the entire country. Click here then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

No comments: